Treatment for Chronic Kidney Disease

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2022 | Last updated: August 2023

Some types of kidney disease can be treated. But for most people with chronic kidney disease (CKD), there is no cure. The overall goal of CKD treatment is to prevent or slow the progression of kidney damage, treat the symptoms, and reduce complications.1,2

Treating chronic kidney disease depends on many things, including the cause of kidney disease, the stage of kidney disease, and any other health issues (comorbidities) you may have. CKD treatment involves managing and preventing health problems that can further damage your kidneys, such as:1,2

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease

Treating diabetes

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of CKD and kidney failure. Treatment for diabetes depends on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.2

If you have type 1 diabetes, your doctor will prescribe insulin shots to help replace the insulin that your body does not make. If you have type 2 diabetes, there are several types of medicines that can help lower your blood sugar while at the same time reducing kidney damage:2-8

  • Sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors – SGLT2 inhibitors are used to reduce blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. These drugs are also helpful to people with kidney disease to help slow down kidney damage and help preserve kidney function.
  • Non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonists (MRAs) – MRAs are used to block overactive mineralocorticoid receptors that can lead to inflammation and scarring in the kidneys, heart, and blood vessels. By blocking these receptors, MRAs help slow down the progression of kidney damage.  As of early 2023, finerenone (Kerendia®) is the only MRA drug approved to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

If you have diabetes, work with your doctor and a dietitian to get it under control.1,2

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Treating high blood pressure

High blood pressure is the second leading cause of CKD. High blood pressure places a lot of stress on the kidneys. Also, kidney disease can raise your blood pressure.1,2

Your doctor may prescribe specific medicines to help reduce this added stress. Blood pressure medicines include:1,2

  • Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors – ACE inhibitors reduce blood pressure by widening blood vessels, reducing hormones that affect blood pressure, and helping your kidneys get rid of excess water.
  • Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) – ARBs lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels. This makes it easier for kidneys to do their job.
  • Beta-blockers – These medicines block adrenaline, a hormone that causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise.
  • Diuretics – These are water pills that help you pee more. By peeing more, you are helping your kidneys flush out extra salt and waste in your blood.

Some blood pressure medicines can make kidney problems worse, while others can be good for the kidneys. Talk to your doctor about which ones are right for you.1,2,8

Treating high cholesterol

High cholesterol can clog your arteries and make it harder for blood to get to your kidneys. High cholesterol can worsen kidney function and can even lead to kidney failure and heart disease over time.1,2

Statins are medicines that help lower cholesterol and help blood flow more easily to your kidneys and throughout your body. Make an appointment with your doctor to check your cholesterol levels.2

Treating heart disease

Heart disease is another health issue that people with kidney disease may live with. Damaged kidneys place stress on other organs of the body, including the heart.2

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, you may be prescribed many of the same medicines used to treat high blood pressure. These include ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta-blockers, and diuretics.2

Complications of chronic kidney disease

CKD can create other problems in the body that often require treatment. These are called complications. They may include:1,2

  • Swelling
  • Gout
  • Anemia
  • Metabolic acidosis
  • Weak bones
  • Too much potassium

CKD treatment involves trying to reduce these complications, usually through a combination of medicines and lifestyle changes.1,2

Swelling

Swelling is a common side effect of kidney disease. This happens because the kidneys are not able to process all the extra water in the body. Diuretics can help get rid of excess water.1

Gout

Gout occurs because of a buildup of uric acid in the body. Having kidney disease puts you at increased risk of developing gout. The symptoms of gout include:8,9

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Redness
  • Stiffness

These symptoms usually take place in the joints of the hands, feet, and knees. They can be very painful. Certain medicines such as colchicine and cortisone may be used to treat gout.9

Making healthy changes to your diet is another way to treat gout. Doctors recommend that you:9

  • Eat less meat
  • Eat fewer high-purine foods – organ meats, alcohol, and processed foods with high-fructose corn syrup
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Drink plenty of water

Anemia

Anemia is when your body does not make enough red blood cells. This leads to symptoms such as fatigue and weakness.1

Healthy kidneys make a hormone called erythropoietin, which tells the body to make red blood cells. But when your kidneys are damaged, this process does not occur.2

Iron supplements are used to treat anemia. Iron is a mineral that helps the body make red blood cells. Hormone supplements may also be used.1

Metabolic acidosis

Metabolic acidosis is the buildup of acid in your body. With low-functioning kidneys, the acid in your blood is not being filtered out. Treating metabolic acidosis consists of taking a sodium bicarbonate supplement, which helps balance the acid levels in your blood.2

Osteodystrophy

Kidney disease increases the chance of developing osteodystrophy. This condition happens when you have abnormal changes to your bones as a result of kidney disease. It can lead to bone breaks or fractures.1,2

In some people with CKD, osteodystrophy is caused by too much phosphorus in the blood. Taking a phosphate binder medicine can help.1,2

In other people, calcium and vitamin D deficiencies lead to bone problems. Calcium and vitamin D supplements may help balance calcium and vitamin D levels in your body. Before taking any supplements, talk with your doctor about what they recommend.1,2

Too much potassium

When your kidneys are damaged, potassium builds up in your body. Too much potassium can cause abnormal heart rhythm and even sudden death. If your potassium is high, your doctor may want you to make changes in your diet. You may also need medicines called potassium binders to lower your potassium levels.10

Lifestyle changes to slow kidney damage

There are certain lifestyle changes you can make to slow the progression of kidney damage. Changing your diet can play a big role in reducing the amount of work your kidneys have to do. A low-salt, low-protein diet is often recommended because it lowers the amount of waste your kidneys have to filter.1,9,11

Here are other lifestyle changes you can make to help maintain kidney function:9

  • Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
  • Control your blood pressure.
  • Avoid certain medicines that can damage your kidneys.
  • Take steps to monitor your kidneys.
  • Take medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Get enough sleep.

Treating end-stage kidney disease

If your kidneys are severely damaged and are no longer functioning, it is called end-stage kidney disease or kidney failure. If you have kidney failure, you will need one of the following treatments:12

Quick Quiz

Which of the following conditions is related to chronic kidney disease?

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